Ten years ago, about a dozen Montgomery County high school students, eager to advance community activism, formed a loosely organized club called Spark that performed various services ranging from canned-food drives to cleaning a polluted half-mile section of Rock Creek.
Over time, however, the organization disbanded and last year one of the original members became concerned about what he said "seemed to be less and less community volunteer involvement on the part of kids in the schools."
So he met with nine other Spark alumni and they agreed to anonymously create the Spark Fund, a $1,000 fund that was awarded this summer to three Montgomery high school juniors with plans to help the community.
Will Doctor, 26, was an original member of Spark and serves as a spokesman for the donors who prefer to remain anonymous. He sees the Spark Fund as an evolution of the projects that the group tackled a decade ago.
"We took that idea and put it into a more mature form," he said. "It is organized, and it has a budget."
Although only six students responded to the Spark Fund competition, Doctor sees that as a start.
"One of our goals is to create a ripple effect, to get people thinking they can do something," he said.
The award procedure was kept simple. Members of the fund voted their money directly to an applicant. The award winners were asked only to report at the beginning and the end of the year on their progress, and to spend the money by February 1988.
One of the three students is Jason Edgmon, who plans to use his $250 award to turn a Germantown recreational area into an official NCAA soccer field.
He said he decided on this project because "it was something that would last. It would be there permanently for the community."
Anita Wu, 17, was awarded $650 to raise awareness in Montgomery County about the homeless. Wu, who will be a senior at Walt Whitman High School, has been actively involved in volunteer projects for several years, including working at the Zaccheus soup kitchen in the District every weekend.
Her ideas for raising awareness about the homeless range from staging a school rally to having a regular Friday afternoon meeting where other students could make food to take to the shelter.
"I think it is almost a responsibility, and I like to feel that I am giving something back to the community," Wu said. "With the problem of homelessness, just knowing about it, watching it on TV, makes me involved."
The third student is Blake Ratner, who is planning to use his $100 award to start a journal that will center on the problems of racism.
Doctor assumes that many of last year's donors will participate again, but if not, he is confident that they will be able to find other donors.
"People need some direction and support," he said. "The best thing about the Spark Fund is that it tells these kids that somebody in the community cares, and someone in the community thinks that what they are doing is worthwhile."
Eventually, the Spark Fund members hope the same idea will spread to other communities.
"As long as it is kept this simple, anyone with a hundred dollars can get together with 10 other people and do the same thing," said Doctor.